New York — A federal appeals court panel Tuesday reversed a lower court ruling that found the federal death penalty unconstitutional because it amounted to the "state-sponsored murder" of innocent people.
A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in its unanimous ruling that precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court prohibits it from upholding the ruling.
The lower court ruling was issued earlier this year by Judge Jed S. Rakoff in a case involving two men charged in a drug-murder conspiracy.
Rakoff said in July that the federal death penalty law "denies due process and, indeed, is tantamount to foreseeable, state-sponsored murder of innocent human beings."
Rakoff, the first federal judge to declare the 1994 Death Penalty Act unconstitutional, struck it down because he said too many innocent people have been executed.
The appeals court said the argument is not new - "it repeatedly has been made to the Supreme Court and rejected by the Supreme Court."
"There is no fundamental right to a continued opportunity for exoneration throughout the course of one's natural life," the appeals panel said.
Chris Dunn, an attorney with the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the issue spotlighted by Rakoff "is an issue that's going to go to the Supreme Court."
"There has been a revolution in the exoneration of death penalty defendants in the last 10 years," Dunn said. "This is an issue that the Supreme Court will need to confront.